Arriving at the Volunteer Wildlife Centre
Cha-am Travel Blog› entry 1 of 34 › view all entries
Up and out to get a fruit shake and check emails for the last time before catching a taxi to Sai Tai Mai (southern bus terminal) to catch the bus to Cha-am. I stowed my rucksack in the hold and then went to the 7/11 to pick up snacks and shampoo thinking I had 25 minutes till the bus left at 11am. When I got back to Bay 1, there was no bus. Immediate panic ensued. I had not checked my ticket which said to be at the bay by 10.50am. It was 10.51am. Fortunately a head count had revealed a passenger deficit and it had stopped around the corner, so with more than a little relief I ran to catch it!
Bus took about 2 hours and when I got off at Cha-am I called the centre to request a pick-up. I was standing in the hot sunshine for some time, and a nice Thai gentlemen came to talk to me. His English wasn't great, but we got along in pidgeon English and hand gestures. He insisted I move into the shade to save frying alive, and even bought me a Pepsi, bless him.
The taxi to the centre took about half an hour. We pulled up beside a large lake and a fenced off forest and I was greeted by a number of dogs, and Emma, one of the volunteer coordinators. I immediately asked whether they'd been expecting me yesterday only to discover they weren't really expecting me for another 5 days. Never mind, I was shown to Room 5 which I share with Lieke, another new girl from the
The second volunteer coordinator took me, Elise and Neil around the centre on an induction. Normally there are around 20 volunteers, but as many people want to volunteer before the wet season starts, the centre will have around 35 volunteers at the moment, arranged through a number of volunteer organisations. The accomodation is pretty basic. The beds are ancient and sag in the middle, the mosquito nets are old and tatty (good thing I brought my own). The electricity is sometimes out for a few hours a day, and the rooms have ancient spiders webs and dust floating on the breeze from our rumbling old fan. The WC is a european style but is self-flush (with a bucket) and the wet room shower is cold water only. For me, I am well used to these kind of conditions, though they fall somewhere short of even the worst hostels I have stayed in, but still I don't find it too bad.
The centre has about 270 animals, 200 of which are primates (190 are gibbons and macques (long-tail, stump-tail and pigmy-tail) split 50/50), 10 are Loris and Dusty Langurs. They have 20 bears, some Black Asiatic, some Malayan Sun Bears. They have a lolloping tiger with spinal damage, who walks like Charley from 'This is Charley' on YouTube (check it out, it's funny and sweet), and also pole leopards, a nocturnal wildcat cross with a
The centre was founded relatively 7 years ago by a gentlemen called Edwin Weick, who I also met today. The centre buys food for the animals with volunteer money, about $100/day, so the money I assumed was for my bed and board is actually for their bed and board! They couldn't exist without us. They have a hospital where they treat the animals, and also domestic animals from the local area. They have a quarantine area, but this is mostly filled with animals that have no place else to go. The centre is waiting for funding to build a new bear enclosure, a new tiger enclosure since they turn so many away, and is currently in the process of building a new gibbon and macques enclosure. They are also fencing off more of the forest to create an educational nature trail, to contain more animals to release back into the wild by keeping them in an area closer to their natural habitat, and also seeding to help reforestataion. Despite the enormous trade in animals and poaching, deforestation and loss of natural habitat is still the number one cause for the decline of animals. 75% of
Originally Edwin came to
However, now Edwin's centre is safe since he has signed a legally binding contract with the Abbot at the temple who owns the land, so he cannot be ousted for any reason, though people have tried. The temple owns the land, but have no control. All Edwin must do is pay the rent, and must be able to prove that anything done with the land is to aid either nature, animals or conservation. He owns the lease for 50 years, which is the longest legal time he could sign the contract for.
We are lucky to see Edwin here as he is currently away a lot in
Many animals at the centre were originally domestic pets but were abandoned or left at temples when they were no longer wanted. The monks did their best but don't always know how to take care of the animals properly; this is the problem at the tiger sanctuary in Kanchanaburi,
Another common problem with animals that arrive is obesity, if they had poor diet and little exercise from too small enclosures. Some are slightly mad from being kept in cramped, dark conditions. Some have behavioural problems; pulling out their fur, attacking other animals and so kept in solitary confinement. Some have aversions to women, some to men, so we will have to learn which cages to avoid. One gibbon leapt towards me when I ventured too close to the cage, but then equally Simon was almost grabbed by another gibbon further along the cages.
The gibbons and the bears are one of the commonest trafficked animals. Both are commonly bought as pets, but bears are used in black bear bile farming, where a steel tube is insterted into their gall bladder and the bile harvested for the CMT (Chinese Medical Trade). Additionally bears are considered a delicacy in some places, and a whole bear will fetch $10,000 at a restaurant. A gram of black bear bile will fetch the same price as a gram of heroine. Gibbons are captured for tourism. For every baby gibbon caught, on average 8 gibbons will have to die. For every 600 gibbons removed from
The commonest animal trade route is from
Another sad trade is that in elephants. There are two types of elephants, wild ones and domestic ones. Domestic elephants are removed from their mothers after 2 years (they should be with them for 4 years) and subjected to a week's constant torture; poking, cutting, sleep deprivation. When finally the elephant's spirit has been broken and they will do anything to stop the torture, then they will be retrained for tourism. This is the lives of the elephants that you see all over
We watched a couple of videos in the evening (there are 2 main companies in the world making animal documentaries - the BBC and the National History New Zealand Company NHNZ), Linley's Lifeline from Animal Planet and a second programme called Dateline and talked to Edwin a bit about his work before turning in around 11pm after dinner.